The Dickens House Museum - Broadstairs
We will be open full time from Easter. 2pm till 5pm and from June 10am till 5pm every day. Open for booked groups all the year around. There is also a full programme of events taking place in the museum.Contact curator Lee Ault email firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Dickens House Museum
This lovely old house has been adapted as a museum to commemorate the novelist's association with Broadstairs.
It was once the home of Miss Mary Pearson Strong on whom Charles Dickens based much of the character of Miss Betsey Trotwood, in his novel David Copperfield.
David Copperfield turns up
at his aunt's house
When Charles Dickens came to stay in Broadstairs for the first time in 1837 he was twenty-five years old and already famous, as the author of The Pickwick Papers, the first of his novels. This had been appearing in monthly parts and was nearly complete. He took lodgings at number 12, High Street, where he worked on the book. He was to return to the town again and again until 1851, with a final visit at the end of the decade. It was in Broadstairs that he found much of the inspiration for one of his most famous characters - Miss Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield's aunt.
In what is now The Dickens House Museum there lived a Miss Mary Pearson, who according to the reminiscences of Dickens's son Charles, was a kindly and charming old lady who fed him tea and cakes. He also remembered that she was firmly convinced of her right to stop the passage of donkeys in the front of her cottage.
While he used the donkey incident for the character of Betsey Trotwood, Dickens described her cottage, with its square gravelled garden full of flowers, and parlour with its old-fashioned furniture, through the eyes of young David Copperfield, although in the novel its location was moved to Dover. This was done, it is thought, to avoid any embarrassment to Miss Strong.
The house that was named 'Dickens House' before the end of the 19th century was bought by the Tattam family in 1919. Their daughter Dora devised it to the town and in 1973 it was opened, according to the terms of her will, as a museum.
The momentous interview in Aunt Betsey's parlour
Coming into the Dickens House Museum, the visitor may well feel the atmosphere of the house, for great care was taken to retain its character, especially on the ground floor and on the stairs, while making more obvious adaptations for the museum on the first floor. The right-hand side of the building, thought to be Tudor, was once a cottage facing towards Dumpton. The archway in the hall was the entrance to the cottage and the old winding stairs beyond. The left-hand side is judged to be Carolean (James II - Queen Anne). The whole was joined and re-fronted at the end of the Georgian period with the early Victorian crinoline balcony added later.
Starting in the front room one finds items that once belonged to Charles Dickens and the pictures displayed are of his time. The Mahogany sideboard, sold by him in 1855 to John Thomas Green, a solicitor, was bought by the Tattam family in 1919, and left to the town, as was the fine collection of prints by H. K. Browne (Phiz), one of Dickens's principal illustrators.
Over the years items have been presented to Broadstairs and the museum, as well as to the Dickens Fellowship. These items include the writing the writing box, a gift from John Forster, his lifelong friend and biographer. Pride of place might well go to the letters written by Charles Dickens from or about Broadstairs. They extol the virtues of "Our English Watering Place" and urge his friends to join the household at the seaside.
The next room has more Dickensian memorabilia and opens into the gift shop. After leaving the shop at the far end, immediately on the left is the archway that was the door to the Tudor cottage. Beyond are the two rooms, which have been rebuilt. In the first are commemorative items as well as later illustrations of Dickens' characters. In the far room the display of 'Old Broadstairs' and a large panorama of the London of Dickens' childhood.
Returning to the hall the visitor will find the parlour. This room, described by Dickens and illustrated by H. K. Browne (Phiz) are well know to the readers of David Copperfield. The cupboard in the corner is recognied as the 'press' from which Miss Betsey brought out the concoctions she poured down the throat of young David, when he arrived at her home after running away from London. The wallpaper, printed by Coles, wallpaper specialists, is an early 19th century design.
The rooms on the first floor have a display of costume and Victoriana as well as a feature on 'Our English Watering Place'. It was in 1851 that Charles Dickens wrote this affectionate record of the town and its inhabitants. This was to be one of his last visits to Broadstairs.